GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Once Antron Brown climbed into his dragster Friday, it was time to move on.
He could no longer think about his last run, the one that ended in a fiery crash in Phoenix. He could no longer think about all the cards, e-mails and well-wishes he received the past three weeks. And he could no longer think about the 52-year-old woman who died as a result of his wreck.
"It still weighs heavy on my heart," Brown said Friday at Gatornationals. "You just have to take it one day at a time. I wouldn't want anybody to experience anything like that. This is a part of what we do. We know that these types of things are capable of happening. We race, we love it, we have a passion for what we do. But there's also some danger involved."
Brown's dragster turned sideways shortly after the green light Feb. 22, slammed into a retaining wall at Firebird International Raceway, slid down the track and caught fire. Brown escaped without serious injury, and despite some bumps and bruises, said he probably could have gotten back behind the wheel the following day.
He didn't want to, though.
Brown went home that night, had a long conversation with his wife and answered questions from his three children.
"My kids knew very well what happened," said Brown, who lives in Pittsboro, Ind. "They weren't sheltered from it at all because it was all over the news, and when they went to school, they got questioned about it."
Brown also reached out to the family of the woman who died — Sue Zimmer, of Rice Lakes, Wis. He declined to reveal what he said or what kind of reaction he got.
"Those are types of things that you like to keep on the personal side," said Brown, who has 24 career NHRA victories. "They're going through a rough time, and I know if it was me, it's something I would like to keep personal and to the side."
NHRA officials have declined comment on the deadly accident, saying it's an ongoing investigation. The crash did little to keep fans away from the NHRA event in Gainesville. Despite steady showers Friday morning, thousands were on hand for the delayed start of qualifying.
Brown may have been the most eager driver to get started. He hadn't done any racing since the wreck.
"My mind, it's like a switch that goes off, so I'll go back into race mode," he said. "I don't think (the accident is) going to be an issue that sets in and jars my ability or makes me think about other things that I shouldn't be thinking about going down the racetrack."
Brown expects some good to come from the accident.
He already has started talking about plans to create a charity that could raise awareness about driving safety. He also insisted the wreck would lead to more NHRA safety.
"We're always trying to step our level of safety up," he said. "When you have things like this happen, a lot of things got to go wrong. You never want to see these things happen, but there's always a way to make things better. Our sport's always been on the leading edge of that."
Nonetheless, Brown called the accident "one of those freak deals."
"You think about a wheel coming off a car, going at that rate of speed, going that far down the racetrack," he said. "That's one of those deals that, in my opinion, is one of those freak accidents. It's almost like that girl that got killed by a hockey puck. How do you change that?
"I could be a critic like everybody else and say, 'Well, it's so easy ... you just do this.' It's not that easy."